Sunday, October 1, 2023

Tamu Tengah Malam (1989)

... aka: Midnight Guest

Directed by:
Atok Suharto

If you think your love life is a mess, spending 80 minutes with these folks should make you feel a little better about that. Wealthy, middle-aged Ningsih (Ully Artha) falls passionately in love with younger skirt-chaser Kadir (Hengky Tornando), but their doomed romance is rife with issues, starting with the fact she's married to Sulaiman (Jack Maland) and has a young daughter, Mirna. To solve that issue, she promptly kicks both of them out of the house and moves her new man in instead. However, Kadir is a player and isn't content with just one woman. He's been going behind Ningsih's back with a youthful widow named Suryani (Yurike [Prastica]). With his sugar mama supposedly gone for the evening, Kadir sneaks Suryani over, but Ningish comes home early and catches the two of them in the act. 

The spurned adulteress then goes into a rage. She throws a vase at Suryani's head, bites a chunk of flesh off of Kadir's arm and spits it on the ground (!) and then runs around the room frantically trying to skewer both of them with a spear. That ends when Kadir flings a machete across the room into her back and then Suryani finishes her off with the spear. The two then hide the body in a secret room in the cellar. However, before dying, Ningish promised to return from the grave to get revenge... and that she does!

Years later, Kadir and Suryani have married. The bookish, shy and now-teenage Mirna (Dian Nitami) is friends with the wilder and more rebellious Lisa (Sally Marcellina), who just so happens to be Suryani's daughter from her previous marriage, though both girls are oblivious to everything their parents have been up to. Mirna and Lisa get together at Lisa's mansion with some friends to study for an exam, where a hidden passageway and a strange statue made of green crystals, rumored to be some kind of vessel to summon demons, are found in the basement. The teens hold a séance using the crystal, which ends up unleashing Ningsih's vengeful spirit. Lisa is possessed, throws everyone around the room, tries to strangle a guy, spits green gunk in someone's face and then passes out. A doctor is called in and claims the incident was caused by stress from studying too hard (!!)

Both Mirna and Suryani are plagued by nightmares, with the former seeing her late mother as a leyak / leák (flying severed head with entrails attached) and the latter envisioning herself trapped in a jail cell with a worm that transforms into a snake with Ningsih's laughing head attached. While that's going on, Kadir's long-ago-healed arm wound opens back up again and starts bleeding. But it's the innocent Lisa who seems to get the bad end of the deal for most of the film. After hearing the ghost calling to her over the radio, she finds herself possessed yet again. Her face turns green, she does 360 degree spins with her head, turns holy water into blood, pukes some more and then thrusts her hand into a shaman's stomach, rips out his guts and throws him out of the upstairs window. That's followed by many more attacks on others. Another shaman is eventually called in to try to exorcise the spirit.

This alternates between wanting to be taken seriously and being just plain (intentionally) silly; almost as if it's trying to send-up The Exorcist, which it knowingly recycles plot points from, at times. As is customary with older Indonesian genre films, there are some grating comedy elements interjected into the mix, mostly centering around maid Mina (Lina Budiarti) and a girl-crazy, ass-pinching, always-horny chauffeur (Mandra Bokir) who will probably die a virgin. I'm sure these are included as a means to break up the tension but, as is often the case, they turn out to be the low points of the film. That said, at least these goofy moments are kept sidelined and aren't allowed to completely take over the film like you'd probably see if this were made in Hong Kong or Thailand at around the same time.

Aside from that, much of the rest of this is pretty great. Well, maybe not great, but it sure is entertaining and a lot of fun to watch! Remember that leyak I mentioned from Mirna's nightmare? Thankfully it turns out to be Ningsih's usual ghostly form so we get lots of scenes of a head flying around in the basement attacking people. Better yet, it gets to do so with a gigantic stretchy tongue that's used to subdue or even kill people! In one scene, it strangles a guy and then rips his head off after both of his arms get pulled off! During another amazing scene, it sprouts a small spinning saw blade at the tip (!) that's used to bore through a victim's head.

There are lots of other bizarre moments to be found here, like a scene where possessed Lisa's top half detaches from her bottom while the chauffeur tries to feel up her legs. Kadir's arm wound eventually sprouts a green snake, footage from the original murder is replayed on a TV set and the ghost writes "Hari Pembalasam" ("Judgment Day") on the wall in blood and then goes to a funeral, where she lounges on top of a gravestone wearing a white miniskirt and giant white sunglasses, admiring her own work. The whole thing has this really bizarre blue / green tint to it, though I can't tell if that's the way it was filmed or if the print is in need of color correction. I'm assuming it's the latter.

This was written by Tindra Rengat (director of the Indo cult classic MIRACLE BABY), who also shows up in cameo. The director made quite a few other obscure genre films, including Perempuan Malam / "Night Virgin" (1987), Putri Kuntilanak / THE WITCH'S DAUGHTER (1988), Melacak dendam / "Tracking Revenge" (1989; an uncredited remake of NINJA III: THE DOMINATION that I really need to see!), Misteri di Malam Pengantin / "Wedding Night Mystery" (1993), Misteri Permainan Terlarang / "Mystery of the Forbidden Game" (1993) and Roh: The Evil Spirit (2006).

I'm not aware of any official home video releases outside of Asian VCDs, and this has also never been available in an English-friendly version. The widescreen print I watched was snatched from the Flix channel.

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